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Cyndi Coulter

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Is this season of triple-digit water bills drying up your disposable income? Is your lawn currently the most expensive member of your family? Then why not spend a few minutes soaking up a slightly drier point of view, care of the Idaho Native Plant Society. Society president Cyndi Coulter tells BW about the virtues of aridity, our strange societal compulsion to put in plants that we need to mother and, of course, the grass so nice we end up paying for it twice.

Boise Weekly: Tell me about your yard.

Cyndi Coulter: I'm converting my lawn, actually, from lawn to little islands of native plants. I think it's in our best interest to get away from the exotic and imported species, and go with things that are adapted for our climates, for our insects, for pollination, for the soils, for the microbial elements of the soil--there's so much. Even the birds that come through depend on native species for food and shelter.

How much of a difference do you notice in water consumption between your lawn and native plants?

I almost never water my native plants, and I guess I'm fortunate to have irrigation because I only water once a week. But I water for a couple of hours on my lawn. But if I didn't have irrigation, I'd be watering a lot. At least every other day or so.

I noticed that on the society's Web site that all the different chapters have plant names... What's the significance of Boise's?

Some of the state chapters have different Indian names. Pahove is the Boise chapter's, and it means sagebrush. It's pretty appropriate.

Aside from water, what are the benefits of surrounding yourself with native plants?

You don't have to baby them. Once they're established, they pretty much do their own thing. They're well adapted to the soils and the weather conditions. We all have an ecological amplitude--people, plants, animals, everybody. The range of tolerances that we endure as a species, and when you put something into a different situation than it's accustomed to and it's adapted to, you have to baby it to keep it alive.

What's something you see around Boise that you think obviously doesn't belong here?

We've introduced a lot of things with good intentions. Cheat grass is one of them. It's even been removed from the state noxious weed list because the definition on the state noxious weed list is something that can be controlled or eliminated, and it has exceeded that definition in its ability to adapt to different situations.

Purple Loosestrife is one of those that has actually been a really popular plant to put in, especially around wetland areas. And it chokes everything out. It's a beautiful plant, and I can see why people would want to plant it, but it's not a good neighbor.

How much is native plant gardening catching on in Idaho?

We've had a lot of response. And when the community has to plant a garden, or has to do something where they tear something out and they have to plant something, I know they're looking for more logical species. The city, the county, the state, they're all looking for better alternatives that require less maintenance and are just as beautiful.

That sounds good, but a lot of people are still going to be very attached to theirlawns ...

Lawns are beautiful, but we have parks everywhere for that. And we pay into thos parks. We pay for their maintenance, for their upkeep, for their water, unfortunately the chemicals that go on there. And the parks are beautiful because they're such large, open expanses. But I think there' s a place for lawns--especially if you have a native grass, or one that requires less maintenance and water. It's really a nice effect.

For information about the Idaho Native Plant Society's upcoming monthly meetings, its annual spring plant sale or to download a guide to landscaping with native plants, plant yourself at www.idahonativeplants.org.